MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Mike Norvell got off to a fast start in his debut as Memphis coach. Now, the schedule get a little tougher.
After opening his tenure with a 35-17 win over Southeast Missouri State two weeks ago, Norvell and his Tigers host Kansas from the Big 12 — a league that eliminated Memphis from expansion consideration earlier this month.
Being a member of a Power Five conference hasn’t helped Kansas on the field. After going winless last season, the Jayhawks (1-1) defeated Rhode Island 55-6 in the season opener before falling to Ohio University 37-21 last week.
Memphis had its open date after Norvell’s opener, so the Tigers have had to be patient.
"We have no say in when our bye week shows up, so we have to maximize it whether it was late in the year or early like it occurred," Norvell said. "With us being a first-year staff, we can definitely take the positives out of it because it gives us another opportunity to continue to get to know each other, to continue to evaluate where we are early in the season."
Kansas lost to Memphis 55-23 last year in the only other meeting between these schools. Much has changed for the Tigers since then. Justin Fuente has moved on to coach Virginia Tech, while quarterback Paxton Lynch became the first-round NFL draft choice for the Denver Broncos. Other key players like tight end Alan Cross and wide receiver Mose Frazier also moved on to NFL careers.
"The thing that sticks out to me is just the contrast in styles between their new quarterback (Riley Ferguson) and obviously Paxton Lynch," Kansas coach Dave Beaty said. "Paxton, that dude was a tremendously talented guy. Their new guy is also a talented guy. .He can throw the football."
Ferguson threw for 295 yards and three touchdowns in the opener for Memphis.
Some things to watch as Memphis hosts Kansas on Saturday morning:
NICE START: Norvell is the first Memphis coach to win his debut since Rey Dempsey in 1984. Only one other Tiger coach — Lester Barnard in 1922 — won his inaugural game. But Norvell has the opportunity to be the first Memphis coach to start his career 2-0.
WHO ARE YOU? Beaty hasn’t determined exactly what type of offensive team will emerge after the Jayhawks ran for only 26 yards against Ohio last week. "I’m trying to figure out who we are right now, because I know we’re a lot better than what we showed Saturday in the run game," Beaty said. "We’re probably somewhere in the middle . to be honest with you."
THE ROAD UNKIND: Kansas has not fared well on the road in recent years and come to Memphis on a 38-game road losing streak. The last road win came Sept. 12, 2009, when the Jayhawks defeated Texas-El Paso 34-7. No current player on the Kansas roster has ever won a road game.
START IS IMPORTANT: Beaty noted the Jayhawks need to start the game with more success. Kansas was down to Ohio 25-0 near the 6-minute mark of the second quarter. "We have to start faster," Beaty said. "We didn’t start fast on either side of the ball." That doesn’t bode well for Kansas. Against Southeast Missouri, Memphis was up 29-0 midway through the second quarter.
GRAHAM DISCIPLES: Beaty and Norvell both have coaching ties as assistants to Arizona State coach Todd Graham with Beaty in 2006 at Rice and Norvell at a couple of stops, including serving as Graham’s deputy head coach for the Sun Devils before taking the helm at Memphis. Beaty even once coached at Norvell’s old high school.